Category Archives: Pollution

Climate Change Hits Assam Tea

The flavour has changed from what it was before. The creamy and strong flavor is no more. It has been revealed that the changes have already been observed everywhere in the Indian tea industry and scientifically it is established that these are gravely attributed to excessive use of pesticides attributed to climate change. Other factors like cultivation methods might also be partly responsible. Studies by  scientists  including Toklai Experimental Station (TES) at Jorhat, Assam has also revealed these  changes.

Excessive pesticide residues in tea continue to be a concern among exporters. These pesticides used in tea plants generally fall in two groups: organochlorines organophosphates and pyrethrins. The chemicals used in tea cultivation are dicofol, endosulfan, ethion, fenzaquin and parquet among others. But all tea producing countries do not have the same standard regarding use of pesticides. The pesticide levels in tea measured from some countries are not within acceptable levels.

Assam tea is acclaimed worldwide for its distinctive taste, and if this is affected, it could spell doom for exports in the long run. According to TAI estimates, the average price realization from exports have been quite discouraging in recent years due to major improvement in production by Sri Lanka and Kenya, India’s two major rivals in the export market.

Scientists from TES, the oldest tea research station in the world, said rainfall and minimum temperature were two of the most important factors affecting both quality and quantity of harvests. The decline has been taking place although there has been an increase in the area of tea cultivation as new gardens have come up, and many gardens have added new areas for tea plantation. This is an indication of the seriousness of the threat. A rise in temperature and change in rainfall pattern are threatening the production and quality of India’s Tea.

Rainfall in North-east India has dropped by more than one-fifth in the past 60 years and the minimum temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees to 67.1 Fahrenheit. A rise in temperature and change in rainfall pattern are threatening the production and quality of Indian Tea. The average rainfall in NE India ranges from 2000-4000 mm. However more than total amount the distribution of rainfall matters a lot for sustained high yield of tea throughout the season. In the NE India, the rainfall distribution is not even. The excess rainfall in the monsoon months of June – September causes drainage problems.

The average monthly rainfall during November to March is less than the evaporation loss and the resulting soil moisture deficient affect tea bushes. When this dry spell persists for a longer period, tea plants suffer heavily and crop goes down in spite of having sufficient
rainfall in the monsoon.

A study earlier conducted by the TES had found that the average minimum temperature in Assam had risen by 1 degree Celsius in last 90 years, besides the region losing around 200 mm rainfall because of climatic changes. Temperature affects tea yield by influencing rate of photosynthesis and controlling growth and dormancy. In general, the ambient temperature with 13 degree C and 28-32 degree C is conductive for growth of tea. Maximum ambient temperature above 32 degree C is unfavourable for optimum photosynthesis more so if it is accompanied by low humidity. In the tea belts of the region the average winter minimum temperature (Dec- Feb) remains below 12 degree and there is hardly any growth during this period.

About 850 tea gardens in Assam produce 55 per cent of India’s tea, but crop yield are decreasing and amid fears of a co relation with environmental change. Assam is the largest tea producing state of India and accounts for around 55 per cent of total tea produced in the country. Though Assam witnessed a bumper tea production in 2009, thus bringing the industry out of 10 years of recession, production took a hit last year due to excessive rainfall. From 499 million kg in 2009, the figure dropped to 480 million kg in 2010 in Assam. Total tea production in India in 2010 was 966 million kg.According to Tea Board estimate Assam produced 512,000 tonnes of tea in 2007. By 2008 this had declined to 487,000 tones, with estimated production in 2009 down again to 445,000.

Fortunately the output in Assam, the largest tea-producing state, was up 5 per cent to 607.83 million kg in the April-December period of 2013-14, from 577.13 million kg in the year-ago period. Of course this has happened on account of vast cultivation area extension by small tea-growers. Climate change makes bound and unavoidable the profuse uses of
fertilizers and pesticides in tea cultivation which degrades both quality and quantity of Assam and Darjeeling tea, a section of tea cultivators and experts said. A steady decline or an almost stagnant picture shown in tea production has been blamed on climate change.

What’s really scary is that this change in climate seems to be affecting the tea’s flavour. Researchers from TES said that some 41 species of mirids in the genus Helopeltis have so far been described in the world and most of them in India. In recent years, two species of Helopeltis, H. schutedeni Reuter (Hemipetra: Miridae) and as earlier predicted, H. thievora waterhouse, have become the greatest enemies of tea planters in India or Asia I but in Africa causing 55% and 11% to 100% crop loss, respectively. Some bugs are transforming themselves into super bugs, thereby making the common pesticides worthless in the tea gardens of Assam.

Helopeltis (Tea mosquito bug) and looper caterpillar is gradually attaining resistance against common pesticides used in our tea gardens. Helopeltis has been keeping the tea growers scary for the past several years. Constant use of same kind of same kind of pesticides is leading to the transformation of these insects into super bugs much to the anxiety of the tea planters and the scientists as well.

It is almost impossible for Assam tea to survive without use of these chemicals because of the sub-tropical climatic condition in the state where the use of these chemicals are necessary for pest control. The tea industry in India is turning up towards domestic market rather than follow a stricter tea standard. What is alarming is that tea growers are still using harmful chemicals like HCH, DDT, Dicofol, Fenvalerate, Methamidophos, Alphamethrin and Acephate.

A cup of tea that cheers can also be an important route of human exposure to pesticide residues. It is important to evaluate the percent transfer of pesticide residue from dried (made) tea to tea infusion, as tea is subjected to an infusion process prior to human
consumption.

Chandan Kumar Duarah

First published  in Eurasia Review

http://www.eurasiareview.com/06022014-climate-change-hits-assam-tea/

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Assam continues to top maternal deaths in India

 Assam has recorded the highest maternal death in India for the tenth successive year, portraying the dismal condition of healthcare system in the northeastern state.

The findings are part of the National Family Health Survey-4 released recently.

According to the Sample Registration System during 2011-1013, the Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) of Assam is 300 for every 100,000 live births, way above the national average of 167.

In the same survey, Assam has recorded a high domestic abuse rate, with 25 percent of married women reporting domestic violence. The figure though is lower than the average national rate, which stands at 50 percent.

The fourth national family survey conducted field work in Assam from November 6, 2015 to March 31, 2016 through Nielsen (India) Private Limited and gathered information from 24,542 households – 28,447 women, and 3,860 men.

Its findings show that 32.6 percent of Assam women, between 20-24 years, were married before the age of 18, which could be an indication of the high number of maternal deaths. The survey also found that Assam also has a high anemic rate. According to the report, 46 percent girls and women between age 15 and 49 are anemic, reports northeasttoday.in.

Analysing the reports, Centre for Catalysing Change executive director Dr Aparajita Gogoi said that the Janani Suraksha Yojana has led to more than 70 percent institutional deliveries.

The health expert, however, said that gender differentiation and female feticide could be the causes but there are also a number of medical reasons for the high mortality rate.

The high MMR in certain pockets, like the tea belts and char areas in Assam, is another aspect of the problem, Gogoi said. The tea communities in Assam are socially isolated and often have high rates of malnutrition, worm infestation and alcohol consumption and low rates of education. She also said that it needs to be researched as to why Assamese girls and women are anemic given the protein rich diet the people in the State eat.

In a telling comment on the Assam Government’s health care records, the State has for the tenth successive year recorded the highest maternal deaths in the country. With the Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) of 300, the State has surpassed the national average of 167.

According to the Sample Registration System (SRS) (July, 2011-13), the MMR in Assam of 300 per 1 lakh live births is the highest in the country, the corresponding national number being 167.

Further, what should come as an eye-opener, Assam has recorded a high domestic abuse rate, with 25 per cent of married women reporting domestic violence. The figure though is lower than the average national rate, which stands at 50 per cent.

These findings are part of the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) (2015-2016) released recently.

The NFHS-4, which will be the benchmark for future survey, conducted field work in Assam from November 6, 2015 to March 31, 2016 through Nielsen (India) Private Limited and gathered information from 24,542 households – 28,447 women, and 3,860 men.

Analysing the reports, Centre for Catalysing Change executive director Dr Aparajita Gogoi told this newspaper that the progress in institutional deliveries, especially under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, has led to over 70 per cent institutional deliveries.

There are many reasons for the high mortality rate in Assam. The State is grappling with challenges like difficult terrain and inaccessibility to health services as a percentage of the population live on islands in the Brahmaputra, which can be aggressive and harsh in the rainy season.

The NFHS-4 states that 32.6 per cent of women in Assam, aged 20-24 years, were married before age 18. Early marriages of such huge numbers could lead to maternal deaths.

The health expert, however, said that gender differentiation and female foeticide could be the causes but there are also a number of medical reasons for the high mortality rate.

One can understand the situation in a conservative State like Rajasthan, where girls are married off early but why an Assamese girl is married off before attaining the age of 18,” wondered Dr Gogoi.

Further, there are socio-economic reasons. The high MMR in certain pockets, like the tea belts and char areas in Assam, is another aspect of the problem, she said. The tea communities in Assam are socially isolated and often have high rates of malnutrition, worm infestation and alcohol consumption and low rates of education.

Assam also has a high anaemic rate and according to the survey report, 46 per cent girls and women between age 15 and 49 are anaemic. She said that it needs to be researched as to why Assamese girls and women are anaemic given the protein rich diet the people in the State eat. Genetically the Ahom community in Assam have low haemoglobin, which could be one of the reasons for anae